Category Archives: Protect People From Surprise Medical Bills Act

Red and Blue America see eye-to-eye on one issue: the nation's health care system needs fixing and What is Missing in Medicare for All and What is Stressing Us All?

USA TODAY’s Jayne O’Donnell noted that Health care is one of the most divisive issues of the 2020 presidential campaign, with candidates disparaging insurers and polarizing labels creating deep divisions even among Democrats. But remove the buzzwords from the policies, and voters who will decide the election aren’t so far apart in their own positions, new research shows. But remember what I have been questioning for the last at least 6 months- with all the concern why hasn’t neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have done anything when they had control, i.e. had the majorities in the House or the Senate? And will Mike Bloomberg come to the Democrats’ recur and solve everyones’ problems?

Regardless of party affiliation, nearly everyone wants to see the nation’s health care system improved, and a majority want big changes. That includes people for whom the system is working well, and those who may be political opposites. 

That’s the big picture finding of a new Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos survey of Americans’ attitudes on health care. The survey is part of the Hidden Common Ground 2020 Initiative, which seeks to explore areas of agreement on major issues facing the nation.

The nationally representative survey of 1,020 adult Americans 18 years and older was conducted December 19-26, 2019. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. 

The survey removed politically charged language such as “Medicare for All” and “Obamacare” and simply explained the basics of health care approaches in an effort to capture voters’ true opinions. 

“There’s the making of a public conversation about this and it does not need to be around ideology,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and public engagement organization. “People just aren’t so set on what they want.”

The sharpest divides were on the size of government and taxes. 

In general, Democrats were more comfortable with a larger role for the federal government, such as the single-payer government insurance program also called Medicare for All, or a public option.

Instead of saying “public option” though, pollsters asked respondents how strongly they agreed with the concept of a new federal health insurance program that gives people a new choice beyond the current private insurance market.

Any adult could buy into the program on a sliding scale, they were told, and 48% were in favor. A survey released last week by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found similar support, with the same percentage of Americans favoring such an option.

When described in general terms, 46% of respondents said they would support market-based plans and 45% could back Medicare for All-type plans.  

Five goals were rated by more than 90% of those surveyedas very or somewhat important: making health care more affordable for ordinary Americans; lowering the cost of prescription drugs; making sure people with preexisting medical conditions can get affordable health insurance; covering long-term care for the elderly and disabled; and making sure all communities have access to enough doctors and hospitals.

So why the gridlock?

“There are these sort of flashpoints with politicized terminology that send people to their partisan corners,” said former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican who is on the board of the bipartisan, nonprofit United States of Care. “If we avoid them, we’re going to be more successful.”

John Greifzu, a survey respondent and school janitor in Fulton, Illinois, used to be a Democrat and “almost middle of the road.” Now, after being a single father of three children until his recent marriage, health insurance costs have made him distrust his party.

His wife is “paying an arm and a leg” — up to a third of a paycheck — for “bottom of the barrel” insurance that comes with a $2,000 deductible through her retail job. And even on the Medicaid plans that cover his children, there are things that aren’t covered, he said.

Greifzu watched his insurance costs rise as it became offered to the unemployed. 

“I work hard for what I’ve got,” said Greifzu. “I’m not going to give up more money for people who don’t do anything.” 

Emily Barson, United States of Care’s executive director, said the survey “validates our worldview … that people agree more than the current political rhetoric would have you believe.” 

It also shows success at the state level is particularly promising, Barson added.

Before the midterm congressional elections, some Republican members of Congress avoided unscripted town halls with voters as concerns rose about the fate of the Affordable Care Act and protections for people with preexisting conditions. In states, Douglas said governors and state officials can’t avoid voters — or each other. 

State officials need to get elected too, but “more importantly, we (states) have to balance our budgets every year,” said Douglas, now a political science professor at Middlebury College.

Friedman noted, however, that voters made it clear in their responses that they don’t want policymakers to leave health care issues to the states. When queried on the specifics, respondents said they didn’t want moving from state to state to make health care any more complicated.  

“In terms of the overarching solution, the public would like to see it solved nationally,” he said. 

Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said most of all it’s clear voters want something done about the prices they pay. 

“Americans across the political spectrum desperately want relief from health care costs,” Levitt said, “and at some point they’re going to hold political leaders to account for not delivering.”

Obamacare, Medicare and more 

The findings from the Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll are part of an election-year project by USA TODAY and Public Agenda. The Hidden Common Ground initiative explores areas of agreement on major issues facing the nation.

The survey of 1,020 adult Americans 18 years and older was taken December 19-26, 2019. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points for Democrats, plus or minus 6.2 percentage points for Republicans and plus or minus 5.7 percentage points for independents. 

The Hidden Common Ground project is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The Kettering Foundation serves as a research partner to the Hidden Common Ground initiative.

Cost of health care, lack of data security stress us out. It’s time to claim our rights.

USA TODAY opinion contributor, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn reported that Americans are stressed out about health care.

Whether it concerns costs, access to treatment or ability to navigate the system, the American Psychological Association, in its 2019 Stress in America survey, found that 69% of people in the United States say health care is a major source of stress in their life.

We’re also stressed about privacy and data security. We live with a patchwork quilt of laws but no overarching protection that allows us to control our personal information.

As Americans, we need to demand our health citizenship. What does this mean? That people claim health care and data privacy as civil rights.

Polls show that most Americans, from top income earners to people living with much less, believe that it’s unfair for wealthier people to have access to better health care.

In an election year where there seems to be little consensus, two issues on which most American voters agree is the need to lower prescription drugs costs and to protect patients with preexisting conditions. These are priorities that cross party lines in 2020.

What’s driving this cross-party consensus? It’s the reality of patients spending increasingly higher amounts of household income on high-deductible health plans, medical services and prescription drugs. Forcing patients to have more financial “skin in the game” has led millions of Americans to forgo care altogether or to self-ration care by not getting recommended tests and not filling prescriptions.

The second driver for the declaration of health citizenship is the urgent need to protect our personal health information.

In 1996, when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was enacted, the introduction of the iPhone was 11 years away. The internet was dial up to AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy. And per-capita spending on health care averaged $3,759 (in 2018, it was $11,172).

Health care in 2020 is digitally based, with most physicians and hospitals in America using electronic health records and providers conducting care online via web-based services. Health care is quickly moving to the home, to our cars and even inside our bodies with implants. Wearable technology, remote health monitoring and mobile apps increasingly support our self-care and shared-care with clinicians.

Our health data is vulnerable

Those interactions create new data points. So do daily interactions with our phones and retail purchases. That information, when mashed up with our health care data, can be used to predict our health status, identify emergent conditions like a heart attack or stroke, and customize medications for patients.

But the data generated by our daily lives, outside of HIPAA-covered entities such as doctors, hospitals and pharmacies, is not for the most part covered by existing laws. We are exposed to third-party brokers who monetize our data without telling us how it’s used and without sharing the revenue they make from our personal information.

Universal care is basic right

What would a new era of health citizenship look like? Every American would be covered by a health plan — however we fashion it.

Universal health care, American-style, could come in many forms, including through proposals under debate during the election cycle. All residents in our peer nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development enjoy some form of health care plan. Most of these countries spend less on health care per person and realize better health outcomes.

One reason is that those nations spend more per person on social factors that help determine a person’s health.

Education, for example, is a major predictor of people’s health. Sir Angus Deaton and Anne Case’s research into the “deaths of despair” in America identified lack of education as a risk factor. Lawmakers need to “bake” health into food and agriculture, transportation, housing and education policies to improve the health of all Americans regardless of income or education levels.

We also need to help people understand the growing role of data in everyday life. Virtually everyone leaves digital dust in the use of mobile phones, credit cards and online transactions. Our peers in Europe enjoy the privacy protection afforded by the General Data Protection Regulation, which defends the “right to be forgotten.” In the United States, we lack laws that sufficiently protect our personal data.

Voting is part of health citizenship, too. The Stress in America survey cited the 2020 presidential election as a major source of Americans’ stress. Let’s make the act of voting a part of our pursuit of good health’

Medicare for All is really missing the point: Experts say program needs work

Ken Alltucker of USA TODAY, reported that when Robert Davis’ prescription medication money ran out weeks ago, he began rationing a life-sustaining $292,000-per-year drug he takes to treat his cystic fibrosis.

Tuesday, the suburban Houston man and father of two got a lifeline in the mail: a free 30-day supply of a newer, even more expensive triple-combination drug with an annual cost of $311,000.

The drug will bring him relief over the next month, but he’s uncertain what will happen next. Although the 50-year-old has Medicare prescription drug coverage, he can’t afford copays for it or other drugs he must take to stay healthy as he battles the life-shortening lung disorder. 

Davis is among millions of Americans with chronic disease who struggle to pay medical bills even with robust Medicare benefits. More than one in three Medicare recipients with a serious illness say they spend all of their savings to pay for health care. And nearly one in four have been pressured by bill collectors, according to a study supported by the Commonwealth Fund.

As Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and others tout “Medicare for All” to change the nation’s expensive and inequitable health care system, some advocates warn the Medicare program is far from perfect for the elderly and disabled enrolled in it. 

The word “Medicare” was mentioned 17 times during Wednesday night’s debate in the context of a national health plan or a public option people could purchase. However, there’s been little to no discussion among the candidates in debates about the actual status of the health program that covers about 60 million Americans.Ad

One in two Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents want to hear more about how candidates’ plans would affect seniors on Medicare, making it the top health-related concern they’d like candidates to discuss, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday. 

“We fear the debate about ‘Medicare for All’ is really missing the point,” says Judith Stein, director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “What most people don’t know is the current Medicare program has a lot of problems with it. We need to improve Medicare before it becomes a vehicle for a broad group of people.”

Medicare for All faces broad political challenges. About 53% support a national Medicare for All plan, but that support drops below 50% with more details about paying taxes to support a single-payer system, according to the Kaiser poll.

Nearly two in three moderate voters in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are skeptical of a plan to use Medicare as a vehicle for comprehensive health coverage, another Kaiser and Cook Political Report poll released this month shows. A group funded by pharmaceutical companies, health insurers and hospitals has lobbied against Medicare for All, and a survey released by HealthSavings Administrators reported participating employers oppose the plan.

This month, Warren released more details about her health plan, calling for a public option within the first 100 days of her presidency. She said it was not a retreat from Medicare for All, even as a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed her support in Iowa dropped to 16%.

Stephen Zuckerman is a health economist and co-director of the Urban Institute Health Policy Center. He says the Medicare for All proposals expand coverage beyond what Medicare beneficiaries get.

“If you hear about Medicare for All, you might think it’s the current Medicare program for all people,” Zuckerman said. “But that’s not what the Medicare for All proposals are presenting. They are looking at plans that are far more generous, in terms of the benefits they cover and to some extent the cost sharing.”

The fundamental promise of Medicare for All builds on a public program that works well for adults over 65 and people who are unable to work because of disability. Although Medicare rates high in satisfaction among most who have it, a portion of people who need frequent, expensive care struggle financially.

The Commonwealth Fund-supported survey of 742 Medicare beneficiaries reported 53% of those with “serious illness” had a problem paying a medical bill. The study defined serious illness as one requiring two or more hospital stays and three or more doctor visits over three years.

Among these seriously ill patients, the most common financial hardship involved medication. Nearly one in three people reported a serious problem paying for prescriptions. People had problems paying hospital, ambulance and emergency room bills, according to the survey.

Eric Schneider, a Commonwealth Fund senior vice president for policy and research, says the survey’s findings show seriously ill Medicare recipients face “significant financial exposure.

“The expectation is that people would be relatively well-covered under Medicare,” Schneider says. “We’re seeing it has gaps and holes, particularly considering the level of poverty many elderly still live in.”

‘More illness, more sickness’

Davis, the Houston-area man, has rationed expensive but critical modulator drugs, which seek to improve lung function by targeting defects caused by genetic mutations. 

When he ran out of the drug Symdeko last November, he coughed up blood, had digestive problems and was hospitalized for a week. This month, he took half the amount he was prescribed, hoping he’d have enough pills to last through the year.  

“It alters my breathing a lot,” Davis says. “I’m more congested. I start slowing down, more illness, more sickness.”

Davis has Medicare prescription coverage, but he couldn’t afford Symdeko’s $1,200 monthly copay. He needs to pay an additional $600 each month for a less expensive drug, pulmozyme, which breaks down and clears mucus from his lungs. The medication he takes is critical to keep his lungs functioning and to limit infections. 

A private foundation offers copay assistance up to $15,000 each year, a threshold Davis reached this month. Like a year ago, as rent, food and utility bills took most of his disability income, the math didn’t work. He could no longer afford drugs when the foundation’s annual help ran out.

A 30-day supply of the newer drug, Trikafta, was provided by the drug’s manufacturer free of charge. Davis worries he will run into the same problem when he’s again forced to cover a copay he can’t afford.

His Medicare coverage is sufficient for doctor visits and hospital stays, but he says drug costs for cystic fibrosis patients are “out of control.” 

“Research is expensive – I understand that,” Davis says. “They are making lifesaving drugs that very few cystic fibrosis patients can afford and that a lot of insurance plans will balk at.”

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes Symdeko and Trikafta, says the drugs’ list prices are appropriate.

“Our CF medicines are the first and only medicines to treat the underlying cause of this devastating disease and the price of our medicines reflect the significant value they bring to patients,” the company says in a statement. 

Vertex provides financial assistance to patients such as Davis who need the company’s medications. 

“Our highest priority is making sure patients who need our medicines can get them,” the company says. “Every patient situation is different, and our (patient-assistance) team works individually with patients who are enrolled in the program to evaluate their specific situations and determine what assistance options are available.” 

‘Public Medicare plan is withering’

Advocates such as Stein want presidential candidates to address Medicare’s coverage gaps and other challenges mill

ions of beneficiaries face.

The Commonwealth Fund survey did not report whether participants had traditional Medicare plans or Medicare Advantage plans, which are administered by private insurance companies such as Aetna or UnitedHealthcare. The report did not ask participants whether they had supplemental insurance, which covers out-of-pocket medical expenses not capped by Medicare. 

People on Medicare typically have robust coverage for hospital stays and doctor charges. But even with “Part D” prescription drug coverage, Davis and others who must take expensive drugs are responsible for copays.

“What is happening is the public Medicare program is withering,” Stein says. “The private, more expensive, less valuable Medicare Advantage program is being pumped up.”

More than one-third of Americans choose private Medicare plans, which entice consumers through add-on services such as vision and dental coverage and perks such as gym memberships. A survey commissioned by the Better Medicare Alliance, which is backed by the private insurance industry, reported 94% of people in private Medicare plans are satisfied with their coverage.

Private Medicare plans restrict the network of available doctors, hospitals and specialists people can see. Traditional Medicare plans allow people to see any doctor or hospital that takes Medicare.

Stein says tailored networks can be problematic for seniors who travel out of state and encounter a medical emergency.

She says private plans frequently change doctors and hospital networks from year to year. Such frequent network changes can surprise Medicare recipients and force them to switch doctors.

“There’s too much confusion, too little standardization,” Stein says. “The inability, when you are really ill or injured, to get the care where you want it and from whom you want it, I think that is completely lost in the discussion.”

This month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order “protecting and improving” Medicare, but some worry it could push more consumers into private plans and lead to more expensive medical bills. Among other things, the order calls for Medicare to pay rates closer to those paid by private insurers. Medicare typically pays doctors less than what private commercial plans pay.

The federal rules based on the executive order haven’t been finalized, so it’s unclear how it might be implemented. 

The executive order “doesn’t seem all that well thought out,” Zuckerman says. Raising Medicare’s payment rates to be on par with private insurance would make the program more expensive and potentially financially vulnerable, he says.

“Public opinion wants to see that program preserved,” Zuckerman says. “At a minimum, I don’t think anyone wants to see Medicare contract.”

US health care system causing ‘moral injury’ among doctors, nurses

Megan Henney of FOX Business noted that the emphasis on speed and money — rather than patient care — in emergency medicine is leading to mass exasperation and burnout among clinicians across the country.

According to a new report published by Kaiser Health News, a model of emergency care is forcing doctors to practice “fast and loose medicine,” including excessive testing that leaves patients burdened with hefty medical bills; prioritizing speed at the cost of quality care and overcrowding in hospitals, among other issues.

“The health system is not set up to help patients,” Dr. Nick Sawyer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California-Davis, told Kaiser Health. “It’s set up to make money.”

In October, a 312-page report published by the National Academy of Medicine, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., found that up to half of all clinicians have reported “substantial” feelings of burnout, including exhaustion, high depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment.

Physician burnout can result in increased risk to patients, malpractice claims, clinician absenteeism, high employee turnover and overall reduced productivity. In addition to posing a threat to the safety of patients and physicians, burnout carries a hefty economic cost: A previous study published in June by the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that physician burnout costs the U.S. economy roughly $4.6 billion per year, or $7,600 per physician per year.

Physicians suffering from burnout are at least twice as likely to report that they’ve made a major medical error in the last three months, compared to their colleagues, and they’re also more likely to be involved in a malpractice litigation suit, the report found. Each year, about 2,400 physicians leave the workforce — and the No. 1 factor is burnout.

The authors of the report, who spent 18 months studying research on burnout, found that between 35 and 54 percent of nurses and doctors experience burnout. Among medical students and residents, the percentage is as high as 60 percent.

“There is a serious problem of burnout among health care professionals in this country, with consequences for both clinicians and patients, health care organizations and society,” the report said.

But the issue in emergency medicine goes beyond burnout. A 2018 report published by Drs. Wendy Dean and Simon Talbot found that physicians are facing a “profound and unrecognized threat” to their well-being: moral injury.

The term “moral injury” was first used to describe soldiers’ response to war and is frequently diagnosed as post-traumatic stress. It represents “perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”

At the crux of moral injury in physicians is their inability to consistently meet patient’s needs, a symptom of a health-care environment that’s increasingly focused on maximizing profit that leaves clinicians trapped between navigating an ethical path or “making a profit from people at their sickest and most vulnerable.”

“The moral injury of health care is not the offense of killing another human in the context of war,” Dean and Talbot wrote. “It is being unable to provide high-quality care and healing in the context of health care.”

In the one year since they published their paper, Dean and Talbot sparked an international conversation among health care professionals about the moral foundations of medicine, receiving a flood of responses.

“All of us who work in health care share, at least in the abstract, a single mission: to promote health and take care of the ill and injured. That’s what we’re trained to do,” they wrote. “But the business of health care — the gigantic system of administrative machinery in which health care is delivered, documented, and reimbursed — keeps us from pursuing that mission without anguish or conflict.”

And as I am watching the New Hampshire Primary results I am amazed that Bernie is heading the Dems, as they are saying, based on his push for Medicare for All. Just a flawed proposal and evidently there are many that believe this Socialist. I am truly worried.

The Conversation We Refuse to Have About War and Our Veterans, Hospital Billing and More on the History of Medicare.

Screen Shot 2019-05-26 at 11.34.05 PMMemorial Day and the latest redeployment of soldiers and a carrier group to the Middle East is a perfect time to realize that Veterans bear the burden of war long after they leave the battlefield. It’s time for America to acknowledge it.

I went to the market

Where all the families shop

I pulled out my Ka-bar

And started to chop

Your left right left right left right kill

Your left right left right you know I will

-Military cadence

“You can shoot her…” the First Sergeant tells me. “Technically.”

Benjamin Sledge wrote reflecting, we’re standing on a rooftop watching black smoke pillars rise from a section of the city where two of my teammates are taking machine gun fire. Below, the small cluster of homes we’ve taken over is taking sporadic fire as well. He hands me his rifle with a high powered scope and says, “See for yourself.”

It’s the six-year-old girl who gives me flowers.

We call her the Flower Girl. She hangs around our combat outpost because we give her candy and hugs. She gives us flowers in return. What everyone else at the outpost knew (except for me, until that day) was that she also carried weapons for insurgents. Sometimes, in the midst of a firefight, she would carry ammunition across the street to unknown assailants.

According to the rules of engagement, we could shoot her. No one ever did. Not even when the First Sergeant morbidly reassured them on a rooftop in the middle of Iraq.

Other soldiers didn’t end up as lucky.

Sometimes they would find themselves paired off against a woman or teenager intent on killing them. So they’d pull the trigger. One of the sniper teams I worked with recounted an evening where he laid up a pile of people trying to plant an IED. It was a “turkey shoot,” he told me laughing. But then he got quiet and said, “Eventually they sent out a woman and this dumb kid.” I didn’t need to ask what happened. His voice said it all.

I often wonder what would have happened if the Flower Girl pointed a rifle at me, but I’m afraid I already know. The thought didn’t matter anyway. There was enough baggage from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq that coming home was full of uncertainty, anger, and confusion — and not, as I had been led to believe, warmth and safety.

“People only want to hear the Band of Brothers stories. The ones with guts and gusto! Not the one where you jam a gun in an old woman’s face or shoot a kid.” I pause, then add, “Look around the room for a second…”

Andy surveys the restaurant we’re in for a moment while I lean in with a sardonic half-smile.

“How many people can even relate to what we’ve been through? What would they rather hear about? How Starbucks is giving away free lattes and puppies this week? Or how a soldier feels guilty because he pulled a trigger, lost a friend, or did morally questionable things in war? Hell, I want to hear about the latte giveaway… especially if it’s pumpkin spice.”

This eases the tension and he smiles.

Andy and I feel like we don’t fit in. We met a few years ago at the church where he works, and where I volunteer. Of the thousands of people in the congregation, we are a handful of veterans. The veterans I meet are few and far between, and we typically end up running in the same circles.

How do you talk about morally reprehensible things that have left a bruise on your soul?

Years ago, Andy fought in the siege of Fallujah. We never readjusted to normal life after deployment. Instead, we found ourselves angry, depressed, violent and drinking a lot. We couldn’t talk to people about war or its cost because, well, how do you talk about morally reprehensible things that leave a bruise on your soul?

The guilt and moral tension many veterans feel is not necessarily post-traumatic stress disorder, but a moral injury — the emotional shame and psychological damage soldiers incur when we have to do things that violate our sense of right and wrong. Shooting a woman or child. Killing another human. Watching a friend die. Laughing about situations that would normally disgust us.

Because so few in America have served, those who have can no longer relate to their peers, friends, and family. We fear being viewed as monsters or lauded as heroes when we feel the things we’ve done were morally ambiguous or wrong.

The U.S. is currently engaged in the longest running war in the history of the United States. We are entering our 15th year in Afghanistan, and we still station troops in some Iraqi outposts. In World War II, 11.5% of U.S. citizens served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3% served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.86% of our population has served in the Global War on Terror. Yet, during World War II, 10 million men were drafted, and over 2 million men were conscripted during Vietnam. Despite the length of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, there has been no draft, whereas, in times past, shorter wars cost us millions of young men. Instead, less than 1% of the population has borne this burden, with repeated tours continually deteriorating our troops’ mental health.

Screen Shot 2019-05-25 at 8.13.38 PM

The gap between citizens and soldiers is growing ever wider. During WWII, the entire nation’s focus was on purchasing war bonds and defeating the Nazis. Movie previews and radio shows gave updates on the war effort. Today’s citizens, however, are quickly amused by the latest Kardashian scandal on TV, which gives no reminder of the men and women dying overseas. Because people are more concerned about enjoying their freedoms and going about their day to day lives, veterans can feel like outcasts. As though nothing we did matter to a country that asked us to go.

This is part of the problem with a soldier’s alienation. People quickly point out that we weren’t forced to join the military and fight in a war. We could have stayed home. The counterpoint is that, because the U.S. has now transitioned to an all-volunteer force, those opposed to war should be thanking their lucky stars that volunteers bear the burden of combat.

Additionally, regardless of whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Communist, Liberal, Conservative, Conscientious Objector, or Pacifist, we all sent the soldier overseas. Because we live in a democracy, we vote to put men and women in charge of governing our affairs, and those elected representatives send troops overseas. We may have voted for someone else, but it does not change the fact that we’ve put ourselves under the governance of the United States. When you live in a country, you submit yourself to their governing body and laws — even if you don’t vote.

The citizen at home may not have pulled the trigger, but they asked the soldier to go in their place.

By shirking responsibility, civilians only alienate our soldiers more. The moral quagmire we face on the battlefield continues to dump shame and guilt onto our shoulders while they enjoy the benefits of passing the buck and asking, “Whose fault is it, really?”

On March 3, 1986, 11 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Metallica released their critically acclaimed album Master of Puppets. On the album, a song entitled “Disposable Heroes” tells the story of a young man used as cannon fodder in the midst of war and the terror that enveloped him on the battlefield. Three years later, Metallica released “One,” a song about a soldier who lost all his limbs and waits helplessly for death. The song won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

In an odd twist, both songs are amazingly popular among members of the United States military. During my time at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center, we had an entire platoon that could practically sing every last lyric to “One.” In Afghanistan and Iraq, these songs were on playlists made to get soldiers amped before missions. We sang songs about dying on behalf of the people or coming home a vegetable. As crazy as that sounds, we sang those songs because they felt true. And they felt true because of the conversation we refuse to have as a country.

As Amy Amidon, a Navy psychologist stated in an interview regarding moral injury:

Civilians are lucky that we still have a sense of naiveté about what the world is like. The average American means well, but what they need to know is that these [military] men and women are seeing incredible evil, and coming home with that weighing on them and not knowing how to fit back into society.

Most of the time, like the conversation Andy and I had, people only want to hear the heroics. They don’t want to know what the war is costing our sons and daughters in regard to mental health, and this only makes the gap wider. In order for our soldiers to heal, society needs to own up to its part in sending us to war. The citizen at home may not have pulled the trigger, but they asked the soldier to go in their place. Citing a 2004 study, David Wood explains that the “grief over losing a combat buddy was comparable, more than 30 years later, to that of a bereaved spouse whose partner had died in the previous six months.” The soul wounds we experience are much greater. Society needs to come alongside us rather than pointing us to the VA.

Historically, many cultures performed purification rites for soldiers returning home from war. These rites purified a broad spectrum of warriors, from the Roman Centurion to the Navajo to the Medieval Knight. Perhaps most fascinating is that soldiers returning home from the Crusades were instructed to observe a period of purification that involved the Christian church and their community. Though the church had sanctioned the Crusades, they viewed taking another life as morally wrong and damaging to their knights’ souls.

No one in their right mind wants war. We want peace. And no one wants it more than the soldier.

Today, churches typically put veterans on stage to praise our heroics or speak of a great battle we’ve overcome while drawing spiritual parallels for their congregation. What they don’t do is talk about the moral weight we bear on their behalf.

Dr. Jonathan Shay, the clinical psychologist who coined the term moral injury, argues that in order for the soldier and society to find healing, we must come together and bear the moral responsibility of what soldiers have done in our name.

Whether you agree or disagree with the war, you must remember that these are our fellow brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, flesh and blood. As veterans, we are desperate to reconnect with a world we feel no longer understands us. As a country, we must try and find common ground. We’re not asking you to agree with our actions, but to help us bear the burden of carrying them on behalf of the country you live in. A staggering 22 veterans take their lives every day, and I can guarantee part of that is because of the citizen/soldier divide.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if we could help our men and women in uniform bear the weight of this burden we carry? We should rethink exactly what war costs us and what we’ve asked of those who’ve fought on our behalf. In the end, no one in their right mind wants war. We want peace. And no one wants it more than the soldier. As General Douglas MacArthur eloquently put it:

“The soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

And what do we offer our Veterans for their healthcare when they come home? A truly horrid attempt at a government-run healthcare system, which now is pushing to get our Vets to private healthcare programs!!

Surprise! House, Senate Tackle Hospital Billing

Senate bill also addresses provider directories, drug maker competition

Our friend Joyce Frieden wrote that responses are generally positive so far regarding draft bipartisan legislation on surprise billing and high drug prices released Thursday by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

“We commend this bipartisan effort to address several of the key factors associated with rising health care costs,” Richard Kovacs, MD, president of the American College of Cardiology, said in a statement.

“We agree with and support many of the principles outlined by the HELP Committee,” Matt Eyles, president, and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for health insurers, said in a statement. “We agree patients should be protected from surprise medical bills, and that policy solutions to this problem should ensure premiums and out-of-pocket costs do not go up for patients and consumers.”

The HELP Committee draft bill, known as the Lower Health Care Costs Act, would:

  •  Require that patients pay only in-network charges when they receive emergency treatment at out-of-network facilities, and when they are treated at an in-network facility by an out-of-network provider that they did not have a say in choosing/
  • Ban pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from “spread pricing” — charging employers, health insurance plans, and patients more for a drug than the PBM paid to acquire the drug.
  • Require insurance companies to keep provider directories up to date so patients can easily know if a provider is in-network.
  • Require healthcare facilities to provide a summary of services when a patient is discharged from a hospital to make it easier to track bills, and require hospitals to send all bills within 30 business days, to prevent unexpected bills many months aftercare.
  • Ensure that makers of branded drugs, including insulin products, are not gaming the system to prevent generics or biosimilars from coming to market
  • Eliminate a loophole that allows the first company to submit a generic drug in a particular class to enjoy a monopoly
  • Give patients full electronic access to their own health claims information.

Although the patient will only need to pay in-network charges when receiving service from an out-of-network provider, that in-network amount won’t pay for the entire out-of-network bill, so lawmakers still must decide how to deal with the rest of the out-of-network charge. The committee says it’s considering several options, including having insurance companies pay the out-of-network providers the median contracted rate for the same services provided in that geographic area, and, for bills over $750, allowing the insurer or the provider to initiate an independent dispute resolution process. The insurer and provider would each submit a best final offer and the arbiter would make a final, binding decision on the price to be paid.

The bill’s provisions “are common-sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the health care costs that you pay for out of your own pocket,” committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement. “We hope to move it through the health committee in June, put it on the Senate floor in July and make it law.” The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the HELP Committee’s ranking member.

Over on the House side, legislators also released a bipartisan bill Thursday on surprise billing. This bill, known as the Protect People From Surprise Medical Bills Act, mirrors the Senate bill in prohibiting balance billing to patients receiving emergency care out of network or anticipated care at in-network facilities that use out-of-network providers without the patient’s knowledge or consent.

The patient would pay in-network rates in those situations, and then the health plan would have 30 days to pay the provider at a “commercially reasonable rate.” If either party is dissatisfied with that rate, the plan and doctor would settle on a payment amount; if that didn’t work, the parties could go to arbitration.

This legislation “will ban these bills and keep families out of the middle by using a fair, evidence-based, independent, and neutral arbitration system to resolve payment disputes between insurers and providers,” Rep. Raul Ruiz, MD (D-Calif.), the bill’s main sponsor, said in a statement. “As an emergency doctor, patients come first and must be protected.”

Co-sponsors of the bill include representatives Phil Roe, MD (R-Tenn.), Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.), Van Taylor (R-Texas), Ami Bera, MD (D-Calif.), Larry Bucshon, MD (R-Ind.), and Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). The group expects to introduce the final legislation in the next few weeks.

The American Society of Anesthesiology (ASA) praised the House bill. “The approach to addressing the problem of surprise medical bills outlined by Congressmen Ruiz and Roe is a fair proposal that puts patients first by holding them harmless from unanticipated bills,” ASA president Linda Mason, MD, said in a statement. “The proposal doesn’t pick winners or losers but instead places the dispute where it should be — between the health care provider and the insurance company.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) also liked the bill. “The outline released today represents a common-sense approach that protects patients from out-of-network bills that their insurance companies won’t pay while providing for a fair process to resolve disputes between physicians and hospitals and insurers,” AMA president Patrice Harris, MD, said in a statement.

Now, back to Medicare and the history of healthcare reform. Next, there was a convening of a National Health Conference, which had earlier approved a report of its Technical Committee on Medical Care, urging a huge extension of federal control over health matters. Sound familiar? Here we are in 2019 urging more control of the federal government over health care again in the form of a government-run health care system as either Obamacare or Medicare for All. The conference in 1938 opened with a statement by President Roosevelt describing the ultimate responsibility of the government for the health of its citizens.

The “technical committee” advised the Conference recommended that the federal government enact legislation in several areas:

  1. An expansion of the public health and maternal and child health programs including the original Social Security Act.
  2. A system of grants to the various states for direct medical care programs.
  3. Federal grants for hospital construction.
  4. A disability insurance program that would insure against loss of wages during illness.
  5. Grants to the states for the purpose of financing compulsory statewide health insurance programs.

The total costs of the program were about $850 million tax-funded and now compare this to the cost of Medicare for All at about $34 trillion. We should have adopted Medicare for All then. We would have saved a boatload of money.

It was interesting to learn that in order to placate the majority of medical practitioners the Committee urged the adoption of these programs on the state level. The reason why physicians opposed a program on the national level was the fear of becoming government salaried employees with not much to say in the administration of the program.

As predicted in 1943 when Senator Robert Wagner of New York, together with Senator James Murray of Montana and Representative John Dingle of Michigan, introduced a bill, which called for compulsory national health insurance/ mandatory health insurance as well as a federal system of unemployment insurance, broader coverage and extended benefits for old-age insurance, temporary and permanent disability payments underwritten by the federal government, unemployment benefits for veterans attempting to reenter civilian life, a federal employment service, and a restructuring of grants-in-aid to the states for public assistance.

Roosevelt wasn’t against the bill but he wasn’t prepared to endorse a bill quite so sweeping and so the bill dies in committee. But interestingly Roosevelt wanted to save the issue of national health care for the next presidential campaign in 1944. During the campaign he then called for an “Economic Bill of Rights,” which would include “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” and the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment” and in his budget message of January 1945 he announced his intention of extending social security to include medical care.

However, Roosevelt died in April 1945 and then Harry Truman took over the presidency committed to most of the same domestic policies as Roosevelt. But then came politics and party and the attempts to enact a health insurance bill during the Truman era came to a definite end with the election of 1950 where a number of the proponents of the mandatory national health insurance were defeated as well as a vigorous and costly campaign by the American Medical Association which was against compulsory health insurance associating the plan in the mind of the public with notions of socialism. Sound familiar?

More next week!

Let us all thank our veterans, our heroes, our real Avengers for all that they have done to assure us all of living in such a great free country. Happy Memorial Day!!

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